Oct 20

My (larger than life) Aunt Marge, and a Mushroom Pate that reminds me of her.

I have been wanting for some time to sit and write about my Aunt Marge. However, I found it just too hard. My Aunt Marge was an extraordinary person. When she passed late last year my heart was broken and it was all too personal for me.  You see she was more than a great aunt to me, more like an anchor to the whole family. My Aunt Marge alone was a source of support and stability to all her brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandchildren and more. She was the oldest of my father’s Aunts and Uncles and a step-sister to my grandfather.

My Great Aunt Marge, just the way I will always remember her...smiling!

My Great Aunt Marge, just the way I will always remember her…smiling!

If there was ever a moment in my life that I can reflect on growing up, My Aunt Marge and my Uncle Jimmy (her husband) were there. I can still clearly remember nursery rhymes she sang to us. There were trips to the mall, dancing school recitals, school plays, graduations, religious ceremonies, getting ready for the prom, going to college, my wedding day – my Aunt Marge was there for it all. I can remember when I was in grade school my parents went away for a week and my Aunt Marge asked if she and my Uncle Jimmy could watch us. She was so happy having us there. She helped us with our homework and then let us watches whatever we wanted on TV. I can remember my sister whispering to me “Danielle, she is not cooking anything. When are we going to eat dinner?” I looked at my aunt and asked “Aunt Marge, when will we eat dinner?” She responded with “Just tell me when you’re hungry and what you want and it is yours!”  As it turns out she prepared and stocked the refrigerator with some of my and my sister’s favorite meals. She let us pick what we wanted and heated it up. She also let us watch TV while we ate! My sister looked at me and said, “We never get to do this at home!” The whole time was such a treat.

My Aunt Marge and Uncle Jimmy (circa 1980's) I wish it was a better picture but it is one of the only ones I have of them.

My Aunt Marge and Uncle Jimmy (circa 1980’s)
I wish it was a better picture but it is one of the only ones I have of them.

In the past year I continually remembered things she did or said. It is funny how that happens. Even after she is gone it is like she is still here in my presence. I finished a book not too long ago that I really enjoyed, as I closed the book I could hear her voice: “Reading is a great way to use your imagination, it can take you anywhere!” I was slicing a loaf of bread one day in my kitchen and it was like she was right there. I could hear her saying, “Eat the heel of the bread and you will get pretty, curly hair Danielle.” (An old wives tail she always expressed and quite possibly why I have more curls today than I ever did.) I turned on the TV the other day and Little Women was on. I instantly thought of my Aunt Marge, she once asked if I ever read the book and when I said no she returned a week later with a copy of the book for me. “I think you will enjoy this, every girl should read it!”

My Aunt Marge was intelligent beyond her schooling. She could pull up facts, dates, times, names, anything – all within the snap of a finger. It fascinated all who encountered her. She was always up on current events, women’s rights, politics, small town issues, popular culture, and slang terms. In some ways I always felt she was a head of her time, and wise beyond her years. The other day I was cooking mushrooms in my kitchen and I thought of her. I was making a Mushroom Pate and I thought, “I wish she was here, I think she would love this dish.” When Brian and I sat at the dinner table to enjoy it I dipped into the Pate I could hear her voice. “Do you believe in double dipping?” Aunt Marge was the one to introduce the term to me (long before it was mentioned on a Seinfeld episode). We were in my parent’s living room and my mom put out a platter of raw vegetables and dip. I can remember my mom looking at me and saying “You always are on top of new topics Aunt Marge.”

Mushroom Pate, and resisting to double dip.

Mushroom Pate, and resisting to double dip.

So there you have it. Aunt Marge was a head of her time – inspiring, and a huge influence on my life. But I don’t look at it like she is gone. I mean I just have to see a movie, read a book, cook something, or eat something and it is like she is right there again. She was one of a kind, and we all have been fortunate to have her as a part of our family. In fact, I find this mushroom pate a lot like my Aunt. The pate is tender, savory, a hint of sweetness, easy going while being elegant, and memorable. I told Brian some of my Aunt Marge memories while we ate and he smiled. She really was a special lady! Aunt Marge, thank you for everything, you are always on our mind and in my kitchen.



Mushroom Pate (feeds 6)

*I made this pate often when catering. It is always a crowd pleaser. The pate is rich in flavor and shocking to most that it is vegan as well. The balsamic reduction always makes people stop and ask what it is as it gives it a glistening black glaze covering it. It is great for a casual gathering or fancy enough for a holiday table.

4 cups of trimmed and sliced Crimini mushrooms

2 cups of onion, chopped small

Olive oil (at least ¼ cup)

¼ cup of brandy

2 cups of basil leaves

¼ cup of chives, roughly chopped

¾ cup pf pistachios

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

¾ cup of balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp of sugar

Bread, Italian or baguette, sliced (and toasted if you like)

First, place your pistachios in a small pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Place it over medium heat and bring it all to a simmer. You are looking for the nuts to become fork tender. It will take about 20 – 30 minutes depending on the nuts. Drain off the water when the nuts are ready and set aside.

Sauted mushrooms and onions.

Sauted mushrooms and onions.

Next, place a large (12 inch) sauté pan over medium heat. Once it is heated through pour about 3 tbsp of olive oil into it. Place the onions and mushrooms in the pan and let men sizzle and simmer, stirring it all often. Keep an eye on the pan as you do not want it to have your mushrooms and onions stick or start to burn. If they stick you can add a tiny bit more of olive oil at a time. Once the onions start to turn translucent you can add a bit of sea salt and black pepper to it all. Once the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are tender and golden you can add the brandy. Let it all simmer until all the brandy is absorbed and cooked down to barely enough liquid to coat the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside until cooled.

Meanwhile, place you balsamic vinegar on a small pan with the sugar and give it a stir. Place it all over a medium heat and bring it to a simmer. Keeping an eye on it, you want it to reduce by half and no more. Once it is reduced remove it from the heat and set aside.

Then, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment; place your pistachios. Pulse the nuts until they are a past.  To this add your basil and chives and pulse your mixture until the herbs are chopped well into the nuts.  Once herbs are chopped add in your mushrooms and onions and puree until it is all a smooth paste like mixture. If the mixture is stiff you can add a bit of olive oil (no more than 1-2 tbsp) to help loose it up to be a smooth paste.  Season it with sea salt and black pepper to taste.


Finally, place your nut and mushroom mixture in a serving dish or crock. Spread it out evenly pressing it into the dish. Over the top pour the balsamic reduction you made. You are looking for the reduction the coat the top evenly. I like to tilt my dish back and forth to be sure it is even. Cove the dish and chill for at least an hour before serving. Serve with sliced crusty bread and extra herbs you may have as a garnish.

Oct 14


I had the opportunity to catch up with some great old work buddies recently. We joked around, had a couple of drinks, laughed a lot, and reminisced about crazy work experiences that I believe only we have personally gone through together. It was a good time and as I walked my one friend to her car and back to home myself I could feel my cheeks sore. The soreness you only get after a good night of laughter with great people.

I woke up earlier than my alarm the next morning and my throat was scratchy. My only thought was that I laughed too much last night, and obviously stayed out a bit too late when you have to be at work as early as I the next day. I didn’t think I should have been alarmed, but the following day I felt terrible. To make matters worse Brian rolled over and said he had a scratchy throat!  By the time weekend hit we were both under the weather. Numerous cups of tea were consumed and lots of soup.

One of the few boxes of Pastina I brought home from our New Jersey visit.

One of the few boxes of Pastina I brought home from our New Jersey visit.

A week later and we are finally better. It dawned on me that we went the whole week with a cold and neither of us had or made Pastina! How could we have not thought of it is beyond me. You see Pastina is something both of us always had growing up when you had a cold or were under the weather. Pastina is just really tiny pasta. Moving away from the east coast we had a hard time finding it. I use to get really small boxes of it at an Italian deli in Phoenix, but since our move to Seattle I have not found it anywhere. When we were in New Jersey in May I stopped in at a local shop and picked up a few boxes to take back home with us. My mom always made it for me and my sister by simmering it in broth and topping it with grated cheese. Brian said his parents often made it by boiling it in water, draining it, and stirring in some butter and black pepper. To be honest with you, both ways are really good. But since I had it on my mind I had to make it for myself this afternoon.  I opted for the simmering in broth version, but if you choose to make it; do it any way you wish. And if you are not feeling well, a bowl of this will instantly make you feeling better. Trust me!

Warm bowl of Pastina with broth and freshly grated cheese.

Warm bowl of Pastina with broth and freshly grated cheese.

Pastina in Broth (feeds 1)

2 cups of broth (chicken or vegetable), homemade is best

¼ cup of Pastina (or any small shaped pasta)

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Sea Salt and black pepper to taste

Freshly grated Parmesan

First; place the broth in a small pot and place it over high heat. Bring it to a simmer and add in the pastina. Be sure to stir it often as you do not want it to begin to stick.

Next; you can sprinkle in the sea salt and black pepper to taste and a bit of cayenne. Still you should be stirring it constantly.

Finally, you will notice the pastina will have swelled and absorbed the majority of the broth. I like to taste it to be sure the pasta is cooked through all the way. Once it is cooked through you can pour it into a bowl and serve with cheese grated over it,

Oct 05

Roasted Squash Salad with Chive Dressing

With all the craziness of non-stop family, friends, and entertaining for Brian’s birthday weekend it was time to sit back and enjoy life for a bit. Time to take it all in and enjoy the beautiful autumn weather we were experiencing.

Roasted Squash Salad

Roasted Squash Salad

The fun part of all the autumn and fall foods are the squashes that you start to see. Acorn, delicata, pumpkin, or butternut – there are so many I can go on and on.  Roasting any of them is great. I love the simplicity of coating them in a bit of olive oil, sprinkling them with sea salt and black pepper, then placing them in a hot oven to roast for a bit. Doing this lets their flavors intensify, and the natural earthy sweetness is more prevalent. In my personal opinion the only other thing that has a “fall” or and “autumn” flavor as much as the squash are nuts.

Now I love the bold flavors of roasting any of these squash, but we just came off of a week of eating and indulging in more than we possible should have. Something simple, something like a salad was more in order. So I decided on using what was freshest at the farmer’s markets this past week representing a last of the summer harvest and the newest of the autumn. A lovely head of red leafed lettuce, the first of the delicata squash, a great bunch of chives, and some freshly pulled mozzarella. When you put it all together with some crunchy croutons are all the makings of a great salad. It was fresh and bright. It was satisfying and refreshing to eat. Not to mention real easy to mix up. Put one salad together and see for yourself. It is perfect for these great autumn days.

Plated Roasted Squash Salad with Chive Dressing drizzled over the top.

Plated Roasted Squash Salad with Chive Dressing drizzled over the top.

Roasted Squash Salad (feeds 4)

1 medium Delicata Squash; trimmed, seeded, and sliced

1 small head of red leafed lettuce (like butter or romaine); trimmed, washed, and chopped

1 – 2 balls of Fresh Mozzarella, sliced thin

¾ cup of Pistachios

2 cups of Freshly Made Croutons

1 bunch of chives (about ¼ cup)

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

1 tsp of Dijon mustard

1 tbsp of Honey

Olive Oil

Bread (day or two old is best), sliced into 1 – 2 inch cubes

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

First, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Toss your squash with a bit of olive oil (enough to cover) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt and black pepper over it all and roast about 3 minutes, rotating it half way through. Roast it until tender when pierced with a knife and set aside to cool.

Next, in a bowl place your bread cubes. Drizzle it all with a bit of olive oil and toss a few times to coat them evenly. Sprinkle them with sea salt and black pepper and toss again. Spread you bread cubes on a sheet pan and place in the oven to “dry out” and toast. Timing will depend of type of bread and how dry it was to start. Bake them tossing them every so often until they are golden and toasty; set them aside to cool.

Meanwhile; on a platter arrange your salad by layering your lettuce, squash, mozzarella, and sprinkle it all with the pistachios and croutons. In a blender or food processor place your vinegar, Dijon, honey, and chives. Pulse it all together to begin to break it all down. While doing this drizzle in about ½ a cup or more of your olive oil until it is all emulsified and you end up with a slightly thick dressing. Sprinkle it with sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Finally, divide up the salad on your plates. When serving the salad keep the dressing on the side so that guest can add as much as they like.

Sep 30

Brian celebrates 40 years young with surprises and Flourless Chocolate Cake

Last week was my husband’s 40th birthday. Celebrating was in order. I planned the weekend of his birthday months in advance. You see I knew that his parents and brother were flying in to surprise him. So I looked around, booked a room at a local restaurant for the party, asked him to make a guest list, we picked out the menu, and then I asked him if there was any dessert he would like what would it be? He said he had to think about it, and that was fine by me…because I was now not only keeping the secret that his parents and brother were arriving, but that my sister was flying in too.

The French Apple Tarts and Flourless Chocolate Cake all read for the celebration!

The French Apple Tarts and Flourless Chocolate Cake all read for the celebration!

As the weeks went by I asked Brian again what dessert he would like. After some contemplating, he came to a conclusion of two desserts! Could I blame him? Absolutely not! He wanted two very different desserts, so that everyone could possibly have something they like. (One of the many qualities I admire about him; he is always thinking of everyone.) Brian asked for me to make something very fall, very fitting – a simple French Apple Tart. These tarts are easy, and elegant in their own way. The other dessert he requested…Flourless Chocolate Cake! I should have known this is the one thing Brian would have asked for. When we had a bakery he loved indulging in a slice of this cake from time to time as we always had it on the menu. It is rich, smooth in texture, possess deep chocolate flavor, and lays nicely on the tongue.  A rich and flourless chocolate cake topped with chocolate ganche; it was very elegant and sophisticated.  Both desserts were quite fitting for a 40th birthday celebration if you ask me.

Two tiered Flourless Chocolate Cake, topped with Chocolate Ganache and 24 kt. Gold Leafing.

Two tiered Flourless Chocolate Cake, topped with Chocolate Ganache and 24 kt. Gold Leafing.

So while planning the finalities on the desserts I got a phone call from my parents. They decided to fly in last minute for Brian’s birthday too. Oh, and they wanted it to be a surprise as well. So now I had three very big secrets to keep from Brian and two very special desserts to make. This was going to be some party. So on the Wednesday before his birthday I called Brian in the afternoon and asked if I could take him on a date. Where did I take him? To the local Marriott, I surprised him with his parents and brother waiting in the lobby for him. You should have seen the look on his face. He was dumbfounded and shocked. The next afternoon I had made reservations for lunch at the restaurant I work for. Brian walked in and was surprised with my parents there too (surprise # 2) . He was grinning and told me- “Wow! I feel so loved!” The following day I came home from work with my sister in tow…Surprise #3! Brian was swept away with glee. He said to me the next day as I got underway with the dessert, “I am overwhelmed. I really cannot believe that everyone is here for me. And now, it’s almost time for cake!” You have got to love his enthusiasm.

The night of the party went really well. Brian’s friends, co-workers, and our families had a great time. We all indulged on some great eats, many libations, and then some desserts! Both of the desserts I made were big hits and some people took home a slice or two with them. Three big surprises, festivities that lasted all week long equal out to a not so bad birthday celebration in my book. Brian was a bit overwhelmed and taken back. He kept repeating to me- “It was only a birthday, everyone didn’t have to come all this way.” I think it was a memorable birthday for him. That and I think he choose well where dessert was concerned. Maybe it is experience that comes with age? Or maybe he is just good when it comes to deciding sweets? I will let you decide that one. For now, Happy Birthday Brian! So glad it was a special one.

Sparklers ontop of cake to celebrate.

Sparklers ontop of cake to celebrate.

Flourless Chocolate Cake (makes one 8-9 inch cake)

*This recipe can be doubled easily. For Brian’s birthday cake I doubled it and split it between a 10 inch and 8 inch cake pan.

1 lb of bitter sweet chocolate (chopped if needed)

5 oz. of butter

5 eggs (separated)

1 tbsp of sugar

First, on a double boiler melt down the chocolate and the butter until smooth, let it cool slightly.

Next, preheat your oven to 300 degrees, and grease an 8 inch pan, then line the bottom with parchment.

Then, using a mixer on high speed wisk the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add the sugar. Continue to whisk until stiff peaks form. But do not over whisk.

Meanwhile, blend the yolks with the chocolate mixture until smooth. Gently fold in the whipped whites a third of them at a time into your chocolate mixture. Do not over mix or the whites will clasps. But be sure not to leave any streaks in the batter either.

Finally, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake in a water bath for 25 – 40 minutes until slightly set and lightly firm. Cool on a wire rack and then chill in the refrigerator 8 hours or overnight. It will then be ready to pop out of pan and use. If you gently heat the bottom of your pan your cake should quickly pop out of the pan.


Chocolate Ganache (enough for 1 cake)

5 oz.  Semi-sweet chocolate (chips are fine but chopped chocolate is best)

1/2 cups cream

First, place Cream and chocolate in a bowl of a double boiler over medium heat (there should only be an inch or two of water in the pan, and the bowl should not be touching the water).

Next, you will want to gently stir the chocolate and the cream together as the chocolate melts. You will keep stirring until your chocolate and cream have unison and are a smooth sauce, and glossy looking.

Finally, remove your mixture from heat and let cool slightly before using.  You will want to pour the ganache over the top center of the cake and let it gently drip down the sides. Let it chill together so that the ganache sets.  Note: If using you can decorate with some gold leafing. A little bit goes a long way. Serve at room temperature. (can hold up to 4 days in a refrigerator if needed.)

Sep 16

Rita’s Tortellini Salad

My mother has several rock solid recipes that she is known for. One of them is Tortellini Salad. She has been making it for years.  It is often requested when she goes to family and friend gatherings. It is bold and bright in flavor. It has the crunch from the many veggies that are in it, not to mention a punch from the fresh garlic and crushed red pepper she always adds.

I can remember once making a large batch of it with my mom for one of our family gathering that my husband attended when we were dating.  About a week later my husband had a pot luck at work and called me asking for the recipe. I laughed and gladly gave it to him, and not too long after he told me one of his co-workers called him asking for the famous salad recipe.  I guess you can say the recipe has made the rounds.

Veggies, olives, and garlic ready.

Veggies, olives, and garlic ready.

Just last week we had plans to go to a friend’s place for a roof top BBQ. I was contemplating what to make. I really do not like showing up with a dessert all the time because I feel like people expect it coming from a pastry chef. When you bake and make pastries all day long I sometimes feel like I need to branch out and make something different to break the chain of it all. I opened up my freezer when I noticed I had tortellini – ahh haa! I knew what I was making!

I had everything I needed for the recipe, it was a no brainer. I started chopping, roasting a pepper, and cooking the tortellini. I had it all made, and marinating in the refrigerator when I received a call from Brian. Unfortunately, our plans had been cancelled because not everyone could make it. But the salad was ready and Brian’s response was – More for us! So that evening we enjoyed some of my mom’s famous salad. It was delicious, and enjoyed the next day for lunch as well. Trust me with this recipe. It is full proof, crowd pleasing, and super tasty. I am sure you will not be disappointed, and you will make my mom proud if you make it.

My mom's (Rita) Tortellini Salad, dressed and ready.

My mom’s (Rita) Tortellini Salad, dressed and ready.

Rita’s Tortellini Salad (feeds 4-6)

*This recipe is easily doubled and tripled when needed. Also, this is the way I like to make it. My mom makes it with the addition of some chopped black olives (canned olives) and a  few tablespoons of capers.

1 pound of Cheese Tortellini (I personally use the frozen ones)

1 large carrot

2 stalks of celery

1 bell pepper

1 roasted pepper (freshly roasted or jarred)

2 cups green Sicilian Olives

*all the above chopped small

1 clove garlic minced

1 tsp crushed red pepper

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

5-6 fresh basil leaves, chopped

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

First, place a four quart pot full with salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling gently add you tortellini and cook per packaged instructions. Once cooked drain and toss with about a 1 tbsp of you olive oil and set aside.

Next, in your serving bowl place all your veggies, olives, and garlic. To this add your mustard, crushed red pepper, olive oil, and vinegar.  Toss it all together and then add your tortellini to it.  And toss it again. Place it in the refrigerator, covered; to chill and marinate together.  (Best when sits anywhere from an hour to overnight.)

Finally, before serving remove from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. (I like to let it sit for at least twenty minutes.) Upon serving sprinkle it with your basil, sea salt, and black pepper. Toss it all together and it is ready to enjoy.

Sep 10

Family Meal Tostadas

There was a catering company I worked for a couple of years back called Nosh Away, and there was a real a sense of “family” between us. I mean when you work the way we did: producing huge meals and events, it was not uncommon I guess. You see for each event you have to pack everything up, load it all in a truck or two; and then travel to events. Once you are there everything gets unloaded and set up. Once that is done you have to prep all the food for plating and serving. When it is all over you have to wrap things up, pack it all up for return to the kitchen. We would finally unload, clean it up, and then start again for the next event.  It was often done in close quarters with make shift tables of sorts, so working like a team makes things work efficiently and somewhat smoothly.  Sounds crazy I know, but we always were able to laugh at it as we went along. 021 Very often when we were at our main kitchen during the week we had family meal. One of the staff would cook a meal for us all to enjoy. We would sit in the break room, enjoy our meal and chat about life. It really was like we were a “little family”. We all had our favorite meals. Sometimes if the main kitchen forgot to ask myself and the other pastry chef for something they needed (usually a time consuming pastry…like a wedding cake) they would make us one of our favorites. For Rumi, my dear friend and fellow pastry chef; it was Latkes a.k.a potato pancakes. They were yummy, but if it was my choice; I always wanted tostadas. And yes, after eating these foods we would agree to just about any of their requests. 030 If you are not aware of what a tostada is you have been missing out. Especially, the way my old coworkers made these. The tostadas were made with corn tortillas and pinto beans that have simmered a while creating a depth of flavor. We would add toppings and of course freshly made salsa. I was in heaven eating them. I personally think they are so good because you get so much satisfaction in just a few bites. You see the tortilla is fried until it is crispy so you get this nice “crunch” factor. Topping the tortilla with the simmered beans; then adding some salsa, cheese, lettuce, and sour cream – you get it all. The richness from the beans, the spicy kick from the salsa, the cheese and sour cream adds a calming factor to it all, and  the lettuce adds a bit more crunch and refreshing cleanse to it all. Weird I know, but this is weird good! So good! 027   I have made this “family meal” at home for my husband and he has become a fan! I have made it for my parents and uncles on one of their visits. Although different to how and what they normally would eat, they did enjoy it. I can remember my Uncle Dave raving over the salsa. Personally, I think that is why a dish like this is so delicious and comforting. You customize it on your plate and make it your own. I; much like my husband Brian like to try and get a little bit of it all in each bite. It is total taste gratification. I made this meal again last week and Brian was telling me how he thought this meal is blog worthy. So here it is, but not just because I wanted to tell you about the meal itself. More important is how I miss those old coworkers. We have all gone our separate ways and try to keep in touch. We sometimes get together for a meal, although as time goes by it gets harder and harder to all get together. I miss them all. I have never worked with a greater group of individuals. I miss the old Nosh Away crew…love you all like family!  I think we should all get together for an old fashion family meal. 032 Pinto Bean Tostadas (feed 2 or more) *This recipe is easily doubled and tripled. 1- 15 oz can of pinto beans 1 clove of garlic, chopped small 1 shallot, chopped small 1 tomato, roughly chopped 2 tbsp of olive oil 1 tbsp of honey 1 cup of veggie or chicken stock ¼ tsp of chili powder Sea Salt to taste Corn Tortillas (about 2-3 per person) ¼ head of lettuce, chopped small Sour Cream ¼ – ½ cup cheese, (Queso fresco or cheddar) Hot sauce 1 lime, sliced Salsa Verde (recipe to follow) Vegetable oil (for frying) First, place a four quart pot over medium heat. Once warmed through add your onion and garlic and stir and simmer until fragrant. Add in the can of beans (liquid and all) and stir well. Add in the chili powder, stock, tomato, and honey. Let is all simmer and stir every so often. Next, make your salsa (recipe below) and chill. Place a 10 inch frying pan over medium heat and fill with about ½ inch of vegetable oil. Once oil is heated through add your corn tortillas, one at a time. Let them “fry” until bubbly and golden and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Sprinkle each one with a bit of sea salt when draining. Then, you bean mixture should be reduced a bit. Remove from the heat and I like to mash a bit of the mixture. Either with the back of a wooden spoon, or using a hand held emersion blender. Only mashing or pureeing a bit. Stir it well and season it to taste. Finally, to serve place you beans in a bowl and have your tortillas on a plate. On the side have your cheese, sour cream, salsa, and lettuce.  If you like you can also add hot sauce and limes. Assemble as you wish and enjoy! 024 Salsa Verde (makes 1 ½ cup) 1 onion, quartered 1 jalapeno, or 2 serrano peppers, stem cut off and roughly chopped 1 clove of garlic 1 bunch of cilantro, leaves and tops of stems only 1 -2 limes, zested and juiced Sea Salt to taste First, in the base of a food processor place all but your limes and sea salt. Pulse your processor a bit to break down you ingredients. Then, add your lime zest and a bit of juice at a time while your processor is running. You are looking to add the juice until your mixture is broken down and as smooth as you would like it. Finally, place the mixture in a bowl and season with a bit of sea salt. Cover and chill until ready to serve. (Lasts up to a week in your refrigerator.)

Sep 04

Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Pound Cake (Happy 3 Years Vagabond)

It was recently my three year anniversary of this blog. Time sure does fly by! I really enjoy sitting down and writing about my cooking – baking – family – experiences – and fun.  Although; the past two weeks I had a really hard time sitting down and writing. Brian has taken on a new project at work that means he has to travel a bit, I have started a new job, and there has been lots of planning for Brian’s birthday that is right around the corner. This is not just any birthday; this is his 40th, so there is definite reason for celebrating!

Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Pound Cake

Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Pound Cake

I know that a three year anniversary for the blog may not be as big as a 40th birthday, but I wanted to do something to honor it. I thought long and hard on what it should be. Not too fancy, nothing frilly, but just a little bit sweet and honorary. It made me think back to the cakes we had growing up. My mother would often bake us a cake. Yes it came from a box mix, but that was her way. My mother could make great lasagnas, tripe that the family would fawn over, soulful soups, meatloaves that make your mouth water, and bowls of pasta that are so comforting upon eating them you feel nothing but love.  All of these things she made from scratch. I would sit with my sister in the kitchen and watched her chop her veggies, pour olive oil from the gallon tin she kept in the cabinet, she simmered and cooked away…she did it all. I guess you can say my sister and I learned from the best.

Cake and fresh berries, reason to celebrate!

Cake and fresh berries, reason to celebrate!

Baking is just not my mother’s forte.  So I will let it slide that the cakes she made us always came from a box mix. It was always done with love like everything else she made. She always made her cakes in a pretty round bunt pan. As a child I always thought these pans rivaled a castle the way it had peeks and crevices. After depanning each cake she baked she dusted it powdered sugar. My sister and I would wait until she would cut us a slice and we would eat it with the powdered sugar sprinkling on us. It was joy! I loved each and every one of those cakes. I wanted another cake like that. One that was simple, with powdered sugar, and enough that made three years of blog writing more than worthy. I dug out my bunt pan that is similar to the one my mom has. I made a simple Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Pound Cake. When it came out of the pan I dusted it with powdered sugar and served it up with some fresh berries. No box mix in my kitchen to be had. I enjoyed it as the week grew on just like those cakes my mom made us. I just wish my mother and sister were here to share it with. Happy 3 years vagabond! Now off for more party planning for Brian.

This cake is moist and buttery, just the way a pound cake should be.

This cake is moist and buttery, just the way a pound cake should be.

Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Pound Cake (serve 10-12)

2 ½ cups of cake flour

1 tbsp of baking powder

¾ tsp of sea salt

8 oz of butter, room temperature

1 ¼ cup of sugar

5 eggs, beaten

1 tsp of vanilla extract

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1/3 cup of buttermilk

First, preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour your bunt pan well and set aside.  In a bowl combine you flour, baking powder, and sea salt and set aside.

Next, in the bowl of a standing mixer place your butter and sugar. With a paddle attachment mix it together until you mixture is light and fluffy. Add your eggs, extract, and vanilla bean seeds and mix on low until it is all well combined. You might want to stop a couple times and scrape down the sides of bowl and paddle to be sure it is evenly combined.

Then, slowly add you flour mixture to your butter mixture. Stir it until just combined. Follow that with your buttermilk. Stir it until your mixture is evenly moistened. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and smooth it across the top. Place it in the center of your oven and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour. Until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake upon testing.

Finally, let cake cool about 30 minutes. After cooling carefully run a knife along all the sides of the cake. Place a platter or plate over the top of the cake and gently flip the two together so your platter is now on your counter and the cake will depan onto it. You might need to tap the pan and bit or give it a jiggle, but is should come out in one smooth motion. Dust the top with powdered sugar and serve

Aug 23

Black and Blue Cupcakes with Goat Cheese Icing

I have been admiring all the berries at the farmer’s markets and grocery store. When you walk by the berries they are beautiful hues of reds, purple, blue, and somewhat pinkish. I hold myself back from grabbing a handful and popping them in my mouth for a taste as I walk pass them. How can you resist? Not only do they look gorgeous, their flavor is so bright and ripe.

Black and Blue Cupcake batter all mixed.

Black and Blue Cupcake batter all mixed.

As I was gazing at some the other day, I picked up some blueberries and blackberries that were just picked from one of the local farms. I started to think about how I love to eat cheese when I eat fruit, so I stopped by a cheese counter at the market and purchased some fresh goat cheese and headed on my way home. While walking home my mind wandered into how underutilized cheese is when it comes to desserts. I mean besides a cheese plate, cream cheese, or ricotta – how often does cheese actually make an appearance in a sweet ending to a meal?  I love when my thoughts go off on their own tangents because you never really know when inspiration will hit.

Cupcake wrappers filled and in the oven to bake.

Cupcake wrappers filled and in the oven to bake.

By the time I was home, inspiration stepped in. I was thinking of making some cupcakes…berry, filled-to-the-rim cupcakes! There was only one possibility to go along with it…a goat cheese icing to top them off with. The goat cheese would be used like that of a cream cheese. Instead of that sour quality that cream cheese possesses, the goat cheese would lend it’s tangy flavor. Taking this and lightly sweetening it, and adding in some vanilla, it would play off the sweet and tart flavor of the berry filled cupcakes. I got to baking and when cupcakes were out of the oven I helped myself to one. It was delicious and the berries burst and oozed with their juices. As I whipped up the icing I tested the flavor, and then again, and again; I was like puppy love – I was in total infatuation. Once again, I held myself back – there is nothing pretty about eating a batch of icing all by yourself with a spoon.

Black and Blue Cupcakes fresh out of the oven.

Black and Blue Cupcakes fresh out of the oven.

All in all it was a great experiment. I was extremely pleased with the pairing of it all. When Brian came home and ate one after dinner, he looked at me and asked, “Can I have another?” Of course, but we wrapped up the others and I gave them to Brian to take to work with him. His co-workers graciously helped themselves, and I have been told that they are waiting for this recipe to be written up. So here it is for all to enjoy. And let me just leave you with a warning: the icing is enough for a double batch of cupcakes, if you can resist eating with a spoon on its own. Enjoy!

Cupcakes topped with their yummy Goat Cheese icing.

Cupcakes topped with their yummy Goat Cheese icing.

Black and Blue Cupcakes (makes 15)

(***Note: the cupcake wrappers you see above I purchased at Sur la Table. They are great because they “stand” on their own, doing away with the cupcake pan! Also they come in a variety of patterns and colors!)

4 oz butter, softened

¾ cup sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

2 cups AP flour

½ tsp sea salt

2 tsp baking powder

½ cup buttermilk

2 cups blueberries, heaping

2 cups blackberries, heaping (roughly chopped if they are large)

First; in a bowl, whisk together your flour, sea salt, and baking powder and set aside. In the bowl of a mixer place your sugar and butter and mix until it is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the egg and mix until just combined, scraping down the edge of the bowl to be sure all is incorporated.

Next, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In three parts alternate your flour mixture, followed by your buttermilk to your sugar and butter mixture. Stir until just combined and not over mixed. Fold in your blue and black berries until well combined.

Finally, scoop your batter into your cupcake wrappers. You are looking to fill the wrappers about ¾ of the way full. Place in the center of the oven and bake about 25 minutes, rotating it half way through. You are looking for the cake to be firm to touch, golden and slightly browned. Let cool about 30 minutes before eating or icing. Keep up to 3 days, but best to be refrigerated.

Icing (makes enough for a double batch of cupcakes)

4 oz butter, softened

4 oz fresh goat cheese, at room temperature

3 cups of powdered sugar, sifted

1 tbsp of vanilla extract

2 – 3 tbsp of milk

First, place your butter and goat cheese in the bowl of your mixer and mix until it is well combined and fluffy.

Next, adding ½ – 1 cup of your powdered sugar at a time to your butter mixture with the mixer running on low. Wait until all the powdered sugar is combined before adding more. Once all the sugar is combined add your vanilla and a bit of milk at a time until you feel the icing has the consistency that you like. (I aim for spreadable while still able to keep its shape.)

Finally, you can ice your cupcakes right away. You can store the remainder of the icing in an air tight container, refrigerated for two weeks. When ready to reuse, be sure to bring to room temperature before trying to spread it. (If you still feel it is too stiff you can remix it with a bit of milk to make it spreadable.)


Aug 12

Fresh Spring Rolls with Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Several years ago I read an article about fresh spring rolls. It was intriguing; the pictures were beautiful to look at and they sounded delicious. But I never made them. I admired the article and the fresh spring rolls at an arms distance. I cannot explain why I didn’t attempt them; I guess there was something about the whole thing that was daunting to me.

My favorite makings of fresh spring rolls.

My favorite makings of fresh spring rolls.

Fast forward, to a couple of years ago. I was in one of the Asian markets here in Seattle and saw rice papers and thought to myself- “There is no time like the present.” I gave it a few tries before I felt I really knew what I was doing. There is a balance between soaking the rice papers and how moist or hydrated you want to keep them before trying to fill and roll them. Also, keeping your filling as organized and neatly together helps the rolls stay together rather than fall apart on you. Other than that; they could not have been any simpler to make. Why was I so hesitant to try them in the first place?

Sliced and chopped vegetables.

Sliced and chopped vegetables.

The fun part of it all is that you can fill the spring rolls with just about anything. I have seen them stuffed with lettuce leaves poking out of the top of them, large boiled shrimps, variety of herbs, strips of chicken, crunchy vegetables, and even rice.  I personally like to think about how I would like it to feel as you bite into it. Do not forget that what you dip it into is where the real fun comes in. I am sure can you think of any number of dressings or sauces to serve with them. (It is really just like a salad after all.) But I like to keep it somewhat Asian by mixing up a spicy peanut sauce to serve alongside. The fresh array of veggies, rice noodles, and tofu I fill the wrapper with go with the rich spicy peanut sauce. If you are like us, you will be using a spoon dribble the sauce onto the rolls. It is so good we like to get as much of it on there as we can.

Neatly wrapping up the roll will lead to easier eating.

Neatly wrapping up the roll will lead to easier eating.

Now, since this is relatively a cold dish it is perfect for these warm summer nights. The only thing you really need to cook – or should I say warm – is the rice paper. All that really entails is a tea kettle filled with water. We have made a meal of them and enjoyed them for dinner, but they can be made as an appetizer and even serve them up for a lunch. I have made them up and placed them in a plastic container and brought them as a treat for others too. Just like what you place in them, the possibilities are endless. I just hope you are not intimidated by them as I once was. Give them a try and dig in, you will not be disappointed.

Fresh Veggie Spring Rolls with Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Fresh Veggie Spring Rolls with Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Fresh Spring Rolls (serves 4-6) Rice Papers (about 12) Thin Rice Noodles (a large handful) 1 red bell pepper; cut into even, thin strips 1 large carrot; cut into even, thin strips 1 cucumber; cut into even, thin strips 5-6 leaves of cabbage, thinly shredded 2 scallions, chopped small 5 mint leaves, thinly sliced 1 – 2 tbsp of chopped cilantro 1 block of tofu, sliced thinly First; mix your cabbage, scallion, mint, and cilantro together and set aside. Have organized all your veggies and cabbage mixture together along with your tofu nearby. Next, place the rice noodles in a large bowl and cover the rice noodles with boiled “hot” water. Cover the bowl and let it sit for about two minutes. Once the noodles are softened drain in a colander and rinse under running cool water. Strain them again and set aside. Then, in a bowl or deep plate (big enough to fit your rice paper) place your rice paper and cover it with warm / hot water to soften.  Once rice paper is softened place it on a clean work surface. Neatly, layer in your veggies, tofu, and rice noodles in the center of your rice paper. Finally; to wrap the spring roll up you will take the bottom end and fold it up, over the veggies. Take the two opposing ends and fold them in and over the bottom half. Now, gently roll the stuffed rice paper up toward the open end of the rice paper until it is one cylinder form. The rice paper will stick to itself to seal. Place them on a platter with their dipping sauce and serve. Note: If serving at a later time cover the spring rolls with a dampened paper towel and cover it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving. Also when plating, I like to layer them between crisp lettuce leaves,

Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce

Spicy Asian Peanut Sauce 1 cup of all natural peanut butter 2 Thai chilies, minced 1 scallion, chopped small 1 clove of garlic, minced 1 tsp ginger, freshly grated 1 lime, zested and juiced 1- 2 tbsp of brown sugar 1 tsp of Siracha Chili sauce 1 tbsp of soy sauce Rice wine vinegar, to taste Water, to taste First, in a bowl place your peanut butter along with all your other ingredients (except the water). Using a whisk gently stir the mixture together until it is combined and thick. Finally, adding in a bit of water at a time to your peanut butter mixture. Keep mixing the water in until you sauce is smooth but will still coat the back of a spoon. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Feel free to add more vinegar or soy. Serve along the side of your fresh spring rolls.

Aug 08

When your surroundings change there is so much to learn. (Like, Verdolaga aka: Purselane)

It was not long after my move to Phoenix that Brian and I bought a home. We were so young, we had so many ideas, so many ambitions, so much enthusiasm, and yet we had no clue about so many things. The climate and style of living in the southwest is much different from that of New Jersey; so needless to say we had a big learning curve.


Freshly washed and trimmed Verdolaga aka: Purselane

We held our own. Painting each room, demoing odd cabinetry and shelves, changing out light fixtures with a few phone calls to my dad (he was an electrician when I was a little girl), but when it came to gardening we really knew nothing. We tried to grow a few things, killed a couple of plants on accident, and did lots of weeding. A year or two later we were at the downtown farmer’s market and I noticed something odd. One of the venders was selling the same greens we were weeding and trying to get rid of in our yard. I questioned the farmer about them and she explained that it was Verdolaga, or also known as Purselane.

Sautéed Verdolaga with Onions

It is an edible succulent that grows annually. The farmer explained that it has a similar taste to spinach, and in many Mexican homes it is not uncommon to cook it quickly with onions and tomatoes. I purchased some and tried it out that week. (I couldn’t make use the ones growing in our back yard because we used a weed killer on them and no longer had any.) It turns out that we loved it. The green did have a very similar flavor to that of spinach, but it had a much nicer texture to it. I tried making it with so many things, but simply with some eggs is by far my favorite. At a farmer’s market here in Seattle I found the Verdolaga, aka: Purselane again. I was so happy; I really thought it was just a southwest thing that I would not come across living here in the Pacific Northwest. So the other night for dinner I prepared it in our favorite most simple way possible. Just sautéed -with onion and a bit of olive oil. Serve it alongside a sunny side up egg and your favorite salsa. You will be amazed at the brightness of the flavors and simplicity of it all. If you come across some Verdolaga or Purselane anytime soon. Give it a try. I only wish I wasn’t trying to kill it all that time, I could have been enjoying it with eggs on a regular basis.


Verdolaga and a Sunny Side Up Egg topped with Salsa

Sautéed Verdolaga aka: Purselane (Serves 2-4)

1 bunch of Verdolaga; washed well, trimmed, and a roughly chopped

1 small onion, sliced thin

2 – 4 tbsp of olive oil

Sea Salt and black pepper to taste

Eggs (1 or 2 per person)


First; take a large, heavy bottomed sauté pan (about 10 inches) and place it over medium heat. Once heated through add in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and warm it slightly. Add in your onion and gently sauté for about 5 minutes.

Next; once your onions are translucent and a bit golden on the edges add in your Verdolaga. You want to gently stir it all together. You are looking for the greens to begin to wilt. Add a bit of sea salt and black pepper and stir again. When the greens are evenly wilted you can remove from the heat and set aside.

Then; place a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add in your remainder of olive oil and heat though. Crack your eggs and gently add them to the pan. You want to let the eggs sizzle until the edges are slightly golden and the whites are set and cooked though; while your yolk will still jiggle, and then remove from heat.  (*Note: depending on how many eggs you are cooking you might need to use more olive oil, adding more as you cook each egg.)

Finally; place a bit of your Verdolaga and onions in your plate and alongside place your cooked eggs. Top it with your favorite salsa and along with some potatoes or warmed tortillas and enjoy.



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